Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Jaredite Scriptures and Tsohar

A Pre-Mosaic Bible

The Bible, as we have it, begins with the Pentateuch (or the Torah to the Jews), which is the five books of Moses. Similarly, the Brass Plates referenced in the Book of Mormon also seems to begin with the Pentateuch (1 Nephi 5:10-11). Assuming traditional Mosaic authorship of these books,1 our Bible potentially dates as far back as some time between the 17th and 13th centuries B.C. (depending on standard Christian and Jewish chronologies). Since Genesis includes history long before Moses' day, one may wonder whether he drew upon extant writings or possibly oral traditions to document the Book of Genesis. Fortunately for Latter-day Saints, the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 1:1 through 6:13 brought about the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price.2 From this book of scripture we learn that Moses was on an exceedingly high mountain where he spoke with the Lord face to face, and while conversing with the Lord, was given a vision of the creation, the garden of Eden, the fall of man, and ultimately "beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created..." (Moses 1:8). Accordingly, it seems reasonable that Genesis could have been documented by Moses based on his vision.  On the other hand, it is possible that Moses had access to ancient texts that he relied on, in part, to formulate Genesis.

It is easy to think of our Bible as starting "in the beginning" since Moses' vision of the creation of the Earth, and of Adam and Eve, provides a commonly referenced framework for mankind. However, based on traditional dating and authorship assumptions, these events would have been recorded well over two-thousand years after the fall of man. As such, it is interesting to note that Moses learned of a record kept by Adam and his progeny called the Book of the Generations of Adam (Moses 6:8; Genesis 5:1). Additionally, we know that Abraham also recorded the creation as he received it by revelation through the Urim and Thummim (Abraham 3:1-5:21).  Some speculation exists as to whether Moses had access to Abraham's writings. One Evangelical Christian acknowledges Abrahamic authorship of scripture and suggested that "...Moses may have received the material for Genesis. It might have come from Abraham, Jacob, Noah, and even Adam, as well as other men of God writing under the spirit's inspiration."  He goes on to cite John Howard Raven, who, in 1906, published the idea that in the country where Abraham lived, there were "traditions of the creation and the flood [which] were preserved, which have much in common with those in Genesis. That is the very country also in which Genesis places the site of the Garden of Eden and where the confusion of tongues is said to have occurred. There, if anywhere, the remains of an original revelation concerning creation and an accurate story of the flood would have been handed down."3 

Ultimately, this post is about the Jaredite scriptures, rather than source material potentially used by Moses in Genesis, as intriguing as that may be. The point of this prefatory material is to point out that scriptures were kept prior to Moses' day. Raven's quotation is interesting because he illustrates this point, but also curiously draws attention to the idea of flood traditions being preserved in a regional setting where the confusion of tongues took place. To some extent, I am taking for granted the general accuracy of certain claims made by Raven based on scriptures in the Book of Mormon. Moroni provided us with brief insight into the Jaredite scriptures through his abridgement of the Book of Ether. He explained that the first part of the twenty-four plates included an account of the creation of the world, and of Adam down to the time of the Tower of Babel (Ether 1:3-4, Mosiah 28:17). At first glance, this would seem to be an older version of Genesis 1 through mid-Genesis 11, but it is not only an older version, it is an entirely separate account of the same period of history. While Ether technically recorded this information in the 6th century B.C., roughly one thousand years after Moses, the source of his information is most likely from records brought across the ocean by Jared and his brother, some one thousand years before Moses. Moroni doesn't mention scriptures while discussing Jared and his brother, but later in his narrative he noted that a record was brought "across the great deep" (Ether 8:9).

Moroni tells us that he excluded the account of the creation and the history from Adam to the confusion of tongues from his abridgement, since this information is "had among the Jews" (Ether 1:3), and Moroni knew full well that the record of the Jews would be passed down to us (1 Nephi 13:20-25). It is difficult to refrain from wondering how similar or different the Jaredite account was from Genesis, as we currently have it. Moroni apparently felt that our Bible would be sufficient in the form that we received it, since adding the translation of this account wasn't warranted. This record apparently contained more information regarding Cain, however, and the "oaths which were given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain, who was a murderer from the beginning" (Ether 8:15). From this reference we garner that the Jaredite account must have had information not contained in the Mosaic account. Coinciding with Raven's comment, some information in the Book of Ether suggests that the early Jaredites were conversant with an account of the flood and Noah's ark, and possibly relied upon their scriptural record to obtain instructions for their own lives. For example, the vessels that the Jaredites built and came across the ocean in, were "tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah..." (Ether 6:7). Not only did their vessels bear similarity to Noah's ark, the Brother of Jared's most engaging experience may have derived from a precedent set by Noah as well.


In Genesis 6:16, the Lord tells Noah, "A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above..." The word translated as window in the KJV is the Hebrew word tsohar צֹהַר, which means "noon, midday." In some translations of the Bible, it is translated as "roof." The footnote to the LDS version, states that "some rabbis believed it was a precious stone that shone in the ark," and a cross reference is given to Ether 2:23-24. Interestingly, two chapters later in Genesis, we read that Noah opened the window of the ark and sent forth a raven (Genesis 8:6-7); in this case, however, the Hebrew word challown חַלּוֹן is used, which is literally translated as "window." Throughout the Bible, the Hebrew word challown is always used for window, except in this one isolated incident. Since both words are used there seems to be some implication that they were synonymous; however, based on the context of the story, there has been a fair amount of speculation as to what is actually being implied with the usage of the word tsohar. As previously noted, some rabbinic sources assert that tsohar actually refers to a shining stone:4
  • "A light shalt thou make to the ark..." The Targum of Onkelos (Genesis 6:16)
  • "Go thou unto Phison, and take from thence a precious stone, and fix it in the ark to illuminate you: with the measure of a cubit (or span) shalt thou complete it above." The Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel (Genesis 6:16)
  • "A light shalt thou make to the ark....R. Levi did explain it. R. Abba b. Kahana said: It means a skylight; R. Levi said: A precious stone." Genesis Rabbah 31:11
  • "A window shalt thou make to the ark. R. Johanan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, instructed Noah, 'Set therein precious stones and jewels, so that they may give thee light, bright as the noon.'" Talmud, Sanhedrin 108b
  • "Rabbi Meir said: One pearl was suspended in the ark, and shed light upon all the creatures in the ark, like a lamp which gives light inside the house, and like the sun yonder which shines in his might, as it is said, "A light shalt thou make to the ark."" Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer
  • "A pearl hanging from the ark's roof shone calmly on Noah and his family. When its light paled, he knew that the hours of daylight had come; when it brightened, he knew that night was at hand, and thus never lost count of the Sabbaths.5
It is particularly interesting that these sources indicate that an illuminated stone, or stones, were used by Noah to light the ark. This is an interesting parallel to the Brother of Jared's experience. It may be that the Brother of Jared drew upon the scriptures in seeking a solution to lighting their vessels. One Jewish source indicates that the tsohar, or tzohar, was given to Adam and was subsequently passed down from generation to generation.  Since the Lord created light on day one of the creation (Genesis 1:3-5), but didn't make the sun and the moon until day four of the creation (Genesis 1:14-19), this legend presumes that there was a miraculous light provided by the Lord which was eventually preserved in a glowing stone, and was given to Adam by the angel Raziel, "after they had been expelled from the Garden of Eden as a token of the world they had left behind."6  This legend may partially coincide with the Targum of Jonathan cited above, since Noah is directed to go to Phison [or Pison], one of the rivers flowing from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:11), to obtain a precious stone. According to the legend, however, Seth, Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph looked into the stone and saw things, which made them prophets (or seers, as Ammon would teach - Mosiah 8:13-18). Interestingly, the same legend indicates that Abraham used the stone "as an astrolabe to study the stars," which seems quite reminiscent of Abraham 3:1-2.Noah used the stone to light the ark, the same as the Brother of Jared subsequently did. Both cases were directly reliant upon divine intervention.

Another interesting item closely related to this is that the midrash by Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, previously cited, records that Rabbi Shemiah taught, "The Holy One, blessed be He, showed Noah with a finger and said to him, Like this and that shalt thou do the ark."8 According to this rabbinic legend, Noah saw the finger of the Lord and was instructed on how to build the ark. Similarly, the barges built by the Jaredites were based on instructions provided by the Lord (Ether 2:16-18), but more significantly, this is remarkably similar to the Brother of Jared's account, wherein, he saw the finger of the Lord as He touched the stones that would illuminate the barges. 

It seems reasonable that the early Jaredites were conversant with their scriptures and drew upon them for personal application. It also seems plausible that the brief tsohar reference in the Old Testament, while ambiguous in the Book of Genesis, might have been perfectly clear in this pre-Mosaic, Jaredite account. Accordingly, the Brother of Jared may have found the solution to his problems through the scriptures just as we do today. While these aged rabbinic sources have helped illuminate this subject through their ancient traditions, and lend some historical credence to the Jaredite account, so can the scriptures illuminate our understanding and give us solutions to our own limited vision. Both Elders Richard G. Scott and Dallin H. Oaks have suggested that the scriptures themselves can become a personal Urim and Thummim to each of us,9 and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland suggested that the testimonies of Christ in the Book of Mormon by Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah stand "like sentinels at the gate of the book," and "admit us into the scriptural presence of the Lord."10

1 Mosaic authorship is questioned through the traditional "documentary hypothesis" developed through the 19th century, and hotly debated by Biblical scholars for well over the last one hundred years.  See the following two articles on the subject from an LDS perspective: John L. Sorenson, "The Brass Plates and Biblical Scholarship," Dialogue 10/4 (Autumn 1977): 31-39; Kevin Barney, "Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis," Dialogue 33/1 (Spring 2000): 57-99
2 Kent P. Jackson, "How We Got the Book of Moses," The Religious Educator 3/1 (2002):127. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has noted that Genesis 1:1 through 6:13 contains 151 verses, while "this identical account in the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price contains 356 verses, with most of the new and added verses being twice as long as the normal biblical verses." Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 411
3 Dr. David Livingston, "From What Did Moses Compose Genesis?" available online (here), accessed Dec 11, 2012; also John Howard Raven, Old Testament Introduction: General and Special (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1906), 131-132 (emphasis added by Dr. Livingston)
4 Geoffrey Dennis, "Tzohar: Gem of Noah, Light of Heaven," Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism; accessed Dec. 14, 2012
5 Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), 113. The sources consulted for this assertion include the following: Genesis Rabbah, 283; B. Sanhedrin, 108b; PRE chapter 23, Sepher Noah, BHM, iii, 158.  Graves and Patai also note that "Some say, however, that this light came from a sacred book which the Archangel Raphael gave to Noah, bound in sapphires, and containing all knowledge of the stars, the art of healing and the mastery of demons. Noah bequeathed this to Shem, from whom it passed by way of Abraham to Jacob, Levi, Moses, Joshua and Solomon.
6 Howard Schwartz, Gabriel's Palace: Jewish Mystical Powers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 59
7 Ibid, 59-61
8 Gerald Friedlander, Trans., Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1916), 164; online here
9 Richard G. Scott, "The Power of the Book of Mormon in My Life," Ensign (Oct. 1984) online here; Dallin H. Oaks, "Scripture Reading and Revelation," Ensign (Jan. 1995) online here
10 Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and The New Covenant (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997), 36 


  1. The answer you are looking for is the Tablets of Destiny.

  2. The Jaredites were culturally Sumarians.

  3. Though they actually were Sumerians.
    The brother of Jared (whose identity is concealed by Moroni) ascends the cosmic mountain (Sherem =ziqqurrat), worships the Lord in the mythic language reserved for the Sumerian god Enlil, receives an Akitu-festival theopany, commanded to build watercraft (similar to the characters Uta-napisti and Ziusudra), and is given the Tablets of Destiny (Ether 3:21-18).

  4. Though, actually the reference is Ether 3:21-28.